The movers and shakers of Fredericksburg’s music scene are younger than you might expect. Fredericksburg All Ages is a non-profit organization run by and for the youth of the city, and since 2006, it has been one of the primary sources for live music events, as well as other fun events like improv shows and coding and digital arts classes, in the small, historic city.
“I was surprised by the amount of people my age [in Fredericksburg], that have never been to a concert before,” said Mia McGill, who is both the FAA youth leader and a Fredericksburg high school student. “I’ve been going to concerts since 6th grade — it’s a big part of my growing up. So to be able to put on shows and make them more accessible for people who don’t have the opportunities that I had is something I’ve really enjoyed.”
McGill started with FAA as a concertgoer attending shows with friends, but eventually became one of the organization’s most active volunteers over her years. Now she regularly books shows and helps run events for the organization. As a high school senior, she has dedicated the time she has left over after studying and looking at possible colleges to building spaces in her community in which people of all ages can play and enjoy live music.
McGill, who plans to go into international relations or political science, says she realized one night after an FAA show that, no matter what she does, what she’s learned through this organization will stick with her.
“I’ve been looking at [schools] in really rural college towns, and I thought maybe I could go a few years without booking and going to shows,” said McGill. “But I realized, this has been such a big part of everything I’ve done in high school and in going to these shows, that even if I don’t go into this professionally, I need to keep doing this.”
FAA was designed to do just this sort of thing for Fredericksburg youth — not only to give them a place to come together over music they enjoy, but also to allow the opportunity for them to gain knowledge they can take beyond their teenage years. With this goal in mind, founder Adam Bray officially registered FAA as a non-profit just four years after graduating from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
“I put together the first [FAA] shows because I was working part-time at a guitar store downtown where kids were taking lessons, and there were teenagers who were really into music, learning the guitar, who had never seen a live band before,” said Bray. “After a few shows… I incorporated it, making a non-profit so that it would last.”
During his Mary Washington years, Bray lived off-campus in Fredericksburg. He noticed there really weren’t spaces available for people under 21 to see and play the music they were passionate about. Unless a band played a coffee shop or a house show, there really wasn’t space for them to grow. And as Bray said, “If you were in a loud punk band, coffee shops weren’t really your gig.”
Bray’s plan, which grew as FAA gained support and volunteers, was to bring touring acts to Fredericksburg and always make sure that their show featured at least one local or high school band.
“These high school bands would take it very seriously because they were opening for bands that had recorded multiple albums and have been touring the country,” said Bray. “They really push themselves, because they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of a touring band, so we’ve pumped out a lot of really great musicians over the years.”
Bray currently sits on the board for FAA as president. He is one of the few adults that take part in this youth-focused organization.
Along with Bray, 2018 Mary Washington graduate Grace Howie resides on the FAA board of operations; she’s one of the newest members. She has worked with the organization in many facets — as a volunteer, as a musician, and as a board member — and has been grateful for every experience.
“If I wasn’t a musician, I don’t think I would be as much of a help, because, if you don’t know how things should go and what works best in the interest of the musicians for set up and things like that, it make it harder and you can’t just be making things up as you go along,” said Howie. “I think having both perspectives, I’m able to see what needs to happen and am able to give better advice [to the youth volunteers].”
It’s not just music that Fredericksburg All Ages provides to the community. They have worked with organizations like Girls Who Code to provide technology education courses to the cities students, as well as bringing in professionals to help students with other digital fields like graphic design.
“We try to empower [students] to pursue new ideas and passions,” said Bray. “If the students are really interested in music, theatre, zines, or recording music, we try to support those students financially, and otherwise try to make their ideas happen.”
Fredericksburg’s young music fans have been heavily involved in FAA throughout the group’s decade-plus existence, continually working hard to put this small city on the map as a music destination between Richmond and D.C. For Howie, learning that almost everything FAA does is handled by youth volunteers was a big surprise.
“When I found out this was all run by young people I was shocked,” said Howie. “This [organization] has given so many opportunities to these high schoolers, because if you want to do anything in the music industry — or even if you think you might not — you want to find that out while you’re young.”
“The kids get to do every aspect of it,” said McGill. “I’ve learned a lot about finances — even though I’m not the treasurer — booking, professional communications, and have built a lot of networking to take with me.”
The next Fredericksburg All Ages show features New Jersey punk veterans Titus Andronicus, along with youthful Richmond rockers Nancy Raygun and Fredericksburg’s own Kings of the Wild Things. It’s happening at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahanock Library, located at 1201 Caroline St, on Saturday, July 27th, starting at 7 PM. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased in advance from Eventbrite.
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond